Com­ing face to face with a wild In­dian bi­son in its nat­u­ral habi­tat isn’t even some­thing that tigers do if they can avoid it. I cer­tainly wouldn’t, if I didn’t have the se­cu­rity of the Jeep Com­pass by my side


A 300km get­away to the Bi­son sanc­tu­ary, with the Jeep Com­pass. Why? To meet Bisons, of course

AA PAIR OF AN­GRY RED EYES SET IN A mas­sive dark face with a pair of deadly look­ing curved horns on its head. You’ll be for­given for think­ing you are in front of some de­mon from the dark depths of In­dian mythol­ogy. For even when it’s do­ing noth­ing but chew­ing the cud like nor­mal cat­tle do in a merry farm any­where in In­dia, the In­dian Bi­son, or Gaur, can be ter­ri­fy­ing. Even the fiercest of preda­tors, which means the Ben­gal Tiger in this case, will baulk at least once be­fore at­tack­ing one and will do so only when driven to des­per­a­tion I am told. Now I don’t know if any back-from-the-dead spy from Bol­ly­wood would have been braver than the King of the Jun­gle, I was cer­tainly no Tiger. I cer­tainly wouldn’t be here, less than 20m away from a mag­nif­i­cent pair of Gaurs in a ve­hi­cle that I had been ad­vised to switch off. Un­less of course that ve­hi­cle hap­pened to be the ro­bust Jeep Com­pass, that too in range top­ping Lim­ited Plus trim.

The Lim­ited Plus edi­tion is ac­tu­ally an up­dated vari­ant of the lovely Com­pass, with more fea­tures added on. First and fore­most there’s that mag­nif­i­cent dual pane panoramic sun­roof that you sim­ply can­not miss. Then there is a larger 8.4-inch touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment, 8-way elec­tric ad­just for the driver seat, auto dim­ming rear view mir­ror, auto head­lamps, wicked look­ing 18-inch pol­ished alu­minium al­loys and six airbags for added safety. So do these make the Com­pass even more de­sir­able? What bet­ter way to find out than a road trip?

Two hours of re­search took me to a de­ci­sion. This time around I would go and watch the In­dian Bi­son in its nat­u­ral habi­tat. The first time I saw one, it was on a night sa­fari in Betla Re­serve For­est in what is now Jhark­hand. I was four and a half and re­mem­ber noth­ing. The sec­ond time I laid eyes on the beast was at Kanha just a year and a half ago. The lone bull we saw would eas­ily have topped six feet from hoof to hump (read shoul­der). It had enor­mous pres­ence and had made an im­me­di­ate im­pact. So if I was go­ing to head off into the jun­gle to catch more of its kind in the wild, the Com­pass Lim­ited Plus with its


tremen­dous road pres­ence would be a per­fect match. Two min­utes later I had ar­ranged for a bright red and black Jeep Com­pass Lim­ited Plus, 4x4 of course, for my jour­ney into the wild. Thank you Jeep.

At just un­der 300km away from home, the Rad­hana­gari Bi­son Sanc­tu­ary – for­merly known as the Da­jipur Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary, isn’t ex­actly within strik­ing dis­tance. The ideal way to tackle this would be to get to Kol­ha­pur and hole up for the night and then head to the sanc­tu­ary early next morn­ing. Un­less of course you have a fast car that’s vir­tu­ally pur­pose built for ex­tended road trips. Which is ex­actly what the Com­pass is. You can choose the 1.4-litre turbo-petrol that is an en­thu­si­ast’s de­light or you can opt for the 2-litre turbo-diesel with its oo­dles of torque and easy cruis­ing abil­i­ties. In ei­ther case, it would be a great choice. In our case, we chose the diesel as­sum­ing that its torquey na­ture and sixspeed man­ual trans­mis­sion would be a joy on a high­way we know is filled with slow mov­ing trucks and idiots of all kinds. And it was, for the ve­hi­cle is stable and planted, picks up speed quickly and can cruise at triple dig­its on the speedo all day with­out break­ing sweat. Over­takes are a dab of the throt­tle and that new UCon­nect in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem with the large 8.4-inch touch­screen keeps you thor­oughly en­ter­tained as it belts out your favourite tunes through the high qual­ity speaker sys­tem.

The miles they come and go and soon enough we reach one of my favourite driv­ing roads in the coun­try, the Kham­batki ghats. It’s one of the most tempt­ing pieces of tar­mac for a driv­ing en­thu­si­ast be­cause it is… wait for it… a one-way hill climb. And un­like at other busier times of the day, at four in the morn­ing there were only a hand­ful of trucks and a car or two leav­ing me enough room to en­joy The Thrill of Driv­ing the Com­pass around a lovely hill climb. Fif­teen min­utes is all it took to get to the other side. Damn, I wish this sec­tion lasted longer. Around the Kham­batki’s twists and turns the Jeep held its line like a train to its tracks and that steer­ing let me know ex­actly where the wicked look­ing al­loys were pointed. A de­light­ful drive if there ever was one.

We pass a Kol­ha­pur that’s on the brink of wak­ing up at around half past five in the morn­ing and turn off the na­tional high­way and on to the Kol­ha­pur-Rad­hana­gari high­way. It’s a nar­row sin­gle lane state high­way that of­fers a mix of good, bad and ter­ri­ble road sur­faces. Sur­faces that the Com­pass’ fre­quency se­lec­tive dampers dis­patch with­out so much as a rat­tle in­side the cabin. It’s all smooth and re­laxed as I watch Vishal’s sleepy head lolling from one side to the other in the auto dim­ming rear view mir­ror.

Two more lovely ghats later we ar­rive at a fork in the road and a mas­sive gate an­nounc­ing we have ar­rived at Rad­hana­gari. Ex­cept there is no in­di­ca­tion at all if we should go left or right. An­droid Auto on the UCon­nect, which also has Ap­ple CarPlay, comes to the res­cue and my phone’s Google Maps tells me to go right. Right is in­deed right and in less than ten min­utes we ar­rive at the ST bus stop in Rad­hana­gari town where we are sup­posed to ren­dezvous with Roopesh and Sam­rat from the Bi­son Na­ture Club. One of them would take us around and help us with the sight­ing.

The sanc­tu­ary it­self is about 35-40km from the quaint Ma­ha­rash­trian town with touches of Konkani. The Konkan coast isn’t ac­tu­ally far off from here. We hun­gry souls grab a quick break­fast of pip­ing hot kurma­puri, which is ac­tu­ally puri and curry, fol­lowed by much needed cups of cof­fee. Imag­ine our sur­prise, that cof­fee at this road­side dhaba turns out to be gen­uine fil­ter cof­fee in­stead of the milky frothy taste­less in­stant cof­fee that one is usu­ally served at such places!

Just when we’ve set­tled into a nice rou­tine of smooth progress we find mis­for­tune bar­ring our way. The rain that was be­ing wiped off the wind­screen by the rain sens­ing wipers on and off since morn­ing had turned the jun­gle trail slip­pery and slushy. So the For­est Depart­ment had shut the park down for the day. Af­ter the ini­tial flut­ter of panic had passed we re­alised that the Jeep was the only 4x4 in the vicin­ity.

A bit of coax­ing and bran­dish­ing our press cards later we had our tick­ets and the ve­hi­cle pass for the princely sum of `270 and were driv­ing through the rusty gate of the Rad­hana­gari Bi­son Sanc­tu­ary. Now I’ve been to enough wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies and na­tional parks in my life but never have I seen such dense woods. The fo­liage is so thick that you’d be lucky if you can see a few me­tres on ei­ther side. Per­fect cover for a Gaur to hide.

Progress was slow for the trail has been churned into a muddy mess. Quite frankly, with­out the Com­pass and its le­gendary Jeep DNA by my side I wouldn’t have ven­tured into the park beyond the first cou­ple of kilo­me­tres. Slip­ping and slid­ing and climb­ing our way to the top of the densely wooded plateau that is the sanc­tu­ary, it’s soon clear that I will have to poke that but­ton next to the gear lever and en­gage Mud mode.

The jun­gle dead­ens noise and eight kilo­me­tres into the sanc­tu­ary all we could hear was the low thrum of the re­fined en­gine. Loud enough to of­fer that sense of se­cu­rity that we ur­ban mon­keys need with­out dis­turb­ing the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. Shapes change, shad­ows shift and in the dark­ness of the for­est ev­ery­thing be­gins to re­sem­ble an an­i­mal. Deeper into the jun­gle the for­est trees twist and turn and meld them­selves into shapes that would have shamed an ace gym­nast. And that’s when we saw it. Not twenty me­tres ahead of us, a grand look­ing fe­male bi­son! It was eas­ily five and a half feet from hoof to shoul­der and yet it didn’t look like the mas­sive beast of my Kanha mem­o­ries.

I had barely com­pleted my thoughts when from be­hind a hedge out popped a mas­sive beast. It must have been six feet or even taller, built like a tank. Those ter­ri­fy­ing curved horns and oh! those an­gry red eyes one can never for­get. A minute must have passed as us in our Jeep Com­pass and the Gaur cou­ple stared at each other be­fore they took off into the jun­gle with daz­zling speed as sud­denly as they had ap­peared. Truly, a sight to be­hold. A pres­ence that is sim­ply not to be ig­nored. Not en­tirely un­like the ro­bust Com­pass. As for the Lim­ited Plus edi­tion, well, it just adds an­other layer of de­sir­abil­ity to the al­ready de­lec­ta­ble Com­pass. ⌧


Be­low left: While the rain sens­ing wipers do a fab job of clear­ing the wind­screen, the pit­ter pat­ter of rain on that panoramic sun­roof and the blur of trees make for a bril­liant sight.Be­low right: The larger 8.4-inch touch­screen is ac­tu­ally the largest in its class

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